Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is eager to drop the government’s long-standing constitutional interpretation that Japan cannot exercise the right to collective self-defense. This is a dangerous move that could lead to military actions by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces abroad.
It would change the basic shape and defense posture of postwar Japan, which are based on its resolve not to repeat the mistake of treading the path to war.
The Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 — which renounces war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes and does not recognize the right of belligerency of the state — largely established Japan’s postwar nature and helped it to gain the trust of the international community. If Abe has his way, this trust would be destroyed.
In accordance with Article 9, Japan has maintained a “defense-only defense” posture that is based on the principle that if Japan is invaded, it will repel the invasion with the use of minimum necessary force on the condition that there are no other means to repel the attack.
This means that Japan will not deploy the SDF overseas for military operations and will not allow the SDF the capability to inflict strategic damage on other countries.
This posture has helped to stabilize the security situation in Northeast Asia. But if Abe succeeds in removing the long-standing ban on the exercise of the right to collective self-defense, Japan could deploy SDF fighting units abroad if its allies were directly attacked or their nationals or militaries are attacked in other countries. Japan’s neighbors, which suffered from its military aggression and colonial rule in the 1930s and 1940s, would react strongly to such a move.
In short, Abe’s attempt will only increase tension in the region, thus worsening the security environment of Japan rather than improving it.
Abe has yet to give the public and the Diet a convincing reason why Japan should adopt this more aggressive defense policy. In addition, he is trying to change the government’s long-standing constitutional interpretation concerning the right to collective self-defense on the strength of discussions with a group of people who were handpicked by him and share his views.
The ban on the exercise of the right to collective self-defense has historical weight because it is based on a numerous rounds of Diet discussions. In fact, the government adopted the constitutional interpretation for the ban with Cabinet approval in 1981.
Equally ominously, Abe is attempting to gut Article 9 without going through the established procedure to revise the Constitution. Article 96 says that a constitutional revision shall be initiated by the Diet through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each house of the Diet and shall require the affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast at a special referendum.
Abe’s attempt to skirt this requirement poses a real threat to Japan’s constitutional democracy.
In addition, SDF weapons have taken no lives, thanks to Article 9. This is an achievement that Japan can be proud of and can utilize in promoting global peace-building activities. But Abe’s move would destroy this precious diplomatic asset.
Once the government decides that it can exercise the right to collective self-defense, it would be extremely difficult for Japan to turn down a request from the United States to help its armed forces engaged in military operations abroad. It’s possible that the SDF would have to take part in military actions that have no direct relationship to the defense of Japan.
It would also be extremely difficult to put a limit to the use of weapons by SDF units taking part in such operations.
Because there are no geographical limits to the exercise of the right to collective self-defense, so Japan could become embroiled in conflicts anywhere in the world. Japan could, in turn, become a target for military or terrorist attacks by countries or groups that are targeted by Japanese military action.
New Komeito, the junior partner of the ruling coalition, as well as liberal elements within Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party should exert all-out efforts to quash Abe’s move.
Abe has already weakened Tokyo’s ties with Washington by pushing his revisionist view of Japan’s modern history, as exemplified by his December visit to Yasukuni Shine — which he did despite U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s personal request not to — and his earlier statement that there is no clear definition of aggression.
The prime minister should realize that his actions have raised alarms in Washington because they are raising regional tensions, and have made U.S.-Japan security ties weaker. Rather than trying to gut Article 9, Abe should shed his revisionist views and work on mending diplomatic ties with Washington.
The changing security environment in Northeast Asia makes it all the more important for Japan to work out a diplomatic strategy based on the spirit of Article 9 that would allow it to work to reduce regional tensions. The basis of this effort should be strict self-restraint on the use of force and a firm determination not to provoke any nation.